Venturing onto the second floor of the Liberal Arts building or even removing one’s almighty earbuds while meandering between classes reveals populations more than just those hailing from Utah. Native Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Russian and, of course, Spanish speakers populate UVU with rapidly increasing numbers. The English as a Second Language program currently boasts over 195 students with an operating budget of approximately 1.2 million dollars for the 2010-2011 school year. Although the program teaches international students how to speak, read, write and listen to English, any person who has embarked upon the trying task of acquiring a foreign language knows that the best way to do it is to practice using the target language, as in speaking it, preferably with other people.
As intimidating as that sounds – and it is – the English Conversation Club aims to lessen the pressure on foreign language students by pairing them up in a conversational setting with English speakers. While the one hour-per-week sessions are mandatory for participating students in the ESL program, the ECC relies on student volunteers recruited from the classrooms of English, teaching and Social Work majors, as well as those who sign up during UVU’s biannual Club Rush.
Jake Phakphoom, a 26-year-old senior majoring in English Literature, has spearheaded the 10-year-old ECC for the past two years. Phakphoom works in the International Office, located in the Woodbury Business Building, matching students with volunteers and keeping tabs on their progress. Originally from Bangkok, Thailand, Phakphoom espouses the benefits of the club as being more than just a way for students to learn English:
“[The ECC] helps people to share their cultures. Our program helps Americans to think outside the box. Sometimes, they [partners] cook together; they don’t need to just talk about grammar.”
Participating in the ECC also assists students in forming sociable connections with one another. International students often experience difficulties making friends since they don’t speak the prevalent language.
“When I was in ESL, it was hard for me to make friends. This program [the ECC] helps them [ESL students] to have at least one friend,” Phakphoom said of his experiences as a former ESL student.
The ECC benefits more than merely the international students, though; volunteers may garner certificates and letters of recommendation for their conversational services upon request.
The club is typically well-received by both parties, although the international students who don’t enjoy the program are usually “too shy,” Phakphoom said.
Potential volunteers who are wary of their English grammar or explanatory skills may be encouraged by Phakphoom’s assertion that the ECC is “not really about teaching – just talking.”
By Deven Leigh Ellis–Asst. Life Editor
Photos by Gilbert Cisneros